How lifelong love of Laurel and Hardy inspired north-east film director’s latest movie

Film director Jon S Baird at his beloved Pittodrie
Film director Jon S Baird at his beloved Pittodrie

A north-east film director whose new movie about Laurel and Hardy is about to hit cinemas has told how he can trace his affection for the comedy legends back to his north-east primary school.

Jon S Baird’s movie Stan & Ollie opens on Friday and has already won rave reviews from critics.

The biopic charts the Hollywood duo as they set out on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953.

Jon, 46, says he has had a love of the comedy duo since he was a child in Peterhead.

Jon said: “I got into them as a kid watching them on TV.

“In fact, there’s a picture of me dressed as Stan Laurel aged eight at the Meethill Primary fancy dress and a mate of mine, Steven Morgan, dressed as Oliver.

Jon, aged 8, dressed as Laurel with pal Steven Morgan as Hardy

“There was certainly an interest way, way back. They’ve always been heroes of mine and an influence on my comedy taste through the years.”

Since leaving Peterhead to attend university, Dons fanatic Jon has carved out an acclaimed career, writing and directing the films Cass in 2008 and Filth in 2013, as well as helming episodes of TV shows from the likes of Martin Scorsese and Danny Boyle.

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Stan & Ollie is his biggest budget film to date and stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as the iconic funnymen.

But Jon says a personal health emergency almost made the production grind to a halt – even before cameras started rolling.

“I got appendicitis a couple of days before we started shooting,” he said.

“I got rushed into hospital but managed to recuperate in a week and get back up and running. It was quite unexpected.”

Jon and Steve Coogan during filming

Another added complication for the film schedule – which took place at theatres around the country – was the marathon make-up sessions to turn John C Reilly into Oliver Hardy.

Jon said: “He was in the chair for four hours for make-up and costume, so that eats into some of your shooting days. It was such a massive job. Plus there was the hour at the end of the day taking it off.”

The director joined the project after being sent the script for Stan & Ollie by writer Jeff Pope, who in 2013 earned an Oscar nomination penning the film Philomena with Steve Coogan.

“I took it on because it was completely different to what I’d done before,” said Jon.

“It was a conscious decision to go in a different direction because I didn’t want to be typecast as the guy who only made the gritty darker movies. This was as far away from that as you could hope for.”

An impromptu impersonation of Stan Laurel during dinner with Steve Coogan convinced Jon the Alan Partridge star was the man for the role.

Jon said: “Without any warning Steve dropped his napkin on the floor and went down to pick it up then purposefully bashed his head on the table on the way up.

“He just went into Stan Laurel without any warning at all. It was incredible – a real tingle up the spine moment.”

Although part of the film is set during Laurel and Hardy’s heyday in the 1930s, the bulk of it is set in 1953, at a time when their star power had faded.

John C Reilly, left, and Steve Coogan as Laurel and Hardy in Jon S Baird’s Stan & Ollie

Jon – who was back in the north-east over Christmas and was at Pittodrie to watch the Dons’ dramatic Boxing Day clash with Celtic – said: “I don’t think they were best of friends.

“Ollie had hobbies outside of work and Stan was a pure workaholic.

“It was only when they started doing their theatre tours and they were forced together at the end of their careers because they had no money, that they became very close friends.

“The film really is a love story about these two friends who realise at the end of their careers and end of their lives what is really important in life.

“It’s a simple tale – a love story really.”